Boston mackerel are caught by jigging; no bait is required. Most mackerel rigs are based on the same basic design which is often called a "mackerel tree". Basic mackerel rigs feature hooks that are covered with colored tubing. The lures are rigged in a sequence with a weight at the bottom. Mackerel rigs can be found in tackle shops or from online suppliers.
Several variations from the basic mackerel tree exist. Depending on preference, offset or non-offset hooks may be used. Some mackerel tube rigs are rigged on specially bent hooks, which impart a swirling action to the lures. Aside from shape, hooks can be dressed in several ways. For mackerel tube purists, red, orange, green, and yellow are the most common colors.
Other mackerel tubes go beyond the use of simple colored hose. Some models feature clear hose, with silver or gold tinsel inside. These small lures are durable and inexpensive, yet highly reflective. In addition to tube designs, some anglers prefer to make their own custom mackerel lures. These are created by tying strands of bucktail (deer hair), feathers, or synthetic materials to hooks.
Weights also vary according to angler preference or local tradition. Some anglers use inexpensive bank sinkers for mackerel fishing. Other fishermen attach a diamond jig or other style of metal jig on the leader. Metal jigs are thought to attract fish from greater distances due to their reflective properties.
Mackerel rigs are usually fished on medium-weight outfits which allow anglers to pull in multiple fish at once. Some anglers use lighter outfits and fewer lures per leader. On the other end of the spectrum are mackerel specialists that seek maximum harvests. These mackerel fishing fanatics sometimes connect multiple mackerel trees or rig their own custom leaders, bringing the total number of hooks per rod to 6 or 8.
To catch mackerel, anglers work the line by alternately jigging and letting line out. This action covers the entire water column from just below the surface to the ocean floor. When the bottom is felt, most anglers begin retrieving and jigging in order to work the water column from bottom to top. Once a bite is felt, anglers continue to jig in hopes of getting a multiple hookup. If the school of mackerel is large enough, a fish may be caught on every hook.
In some areas, Atlantic herring occur together with mackerel. Although smaller in size, these fish can also be a challenge for anglers. When herring are encountered, some anglers target them by using slightly smaller sized lures.